KAUFMANN: Let’s look beyond the mask

In the black-and-white world of early television, a fearless horseman roamed the Wild West, guarding his identity behind a dark cloth. Each episode ended with some version of: “He helped us, and we don’t even know his name! Who was that masked man?” And the answer was always this generic moniker: “He’s the Lone Ranger!”

A similar modern fictional hero is the Mandalorian of the Star Wars universe. Sworn never to show his face to another living being, this bounty-hunter-turned-guardian perpetually wears a helmet with a full visor. The Mandalorian traverses galaxies on a singular mission, fighting evil along the way.

Whether in the deserts of the American West or the wastes of a distant planet, people who are in mortal danger do not seem to care that their savior is wearing a mask. We watch and cheer as their anonymous champion bravely beats down their nefarious oppressors, because “This is the Way.”

At the time of this writing, some county health departments in Michiana are recommending that their citizens wear face coverings indoors to combat the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19. Responsible for most recent cases and deaths, this aggressive mutation is highly contagious and can be transmitted by anyone, regardless of vaccination status.

Perhaps I am writing this article as a pep talk for myself, but I suspect that I am not the only one who feels some disappointment. After enjoying seeing everyone’s faces all summer, I feel sad that we might need to cover them up again.

What would the Lone Ranger say to me right now, if he were riding Silver through our town? I think it might be something like this: “Well, ma’am, remember that wearing a mask is a small personal sacrifice to save the life of your neighbor. There are lots of folks depending on us to do the right thing. If we all do our part, we can stop this virus in its tracks.”

The Mandalorian would be less tolerant. I can feel the weight of his obsidian gaze as he turns slowly toward me and commands, “Wear it. The kid can’t get vaccinated yet, so you need to wear it to protect The Child. At least you don’t have to cover your entire head.”

Masking is just one of the ways we can fight against this tenacious enemy. Hand washing, social distancing, staying home when we are sick and getting vaccinated also remain effective weapons. But covering our mouth and nose creates a powerful barrier to stop viral transmission at its source. Masking visibly demonstrates that we are serious about protecting the lives of others.

I am inspired by these words from “The Lone Ranger Creed” by Fran Striker, the character’s creator: “I believe that to have a friend,/ a man must be one… That men should live by/ the rule of what is best/ for the greatest number…”

If experts advise that we wear face coverings, then let’s look beyond considering them an annoyance or a discomfort, and instead view them as the tool that will enable us to keep gathering in person at our workplaces and schools. Let’s look beyond the mask and see the person whose life we can save. Let’s be brave like the heroes we admire, and mask up for a greater purpose.

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